The Friday schedule began with a 45-minute collective testing session in the morning as a prelude to the qualifying session in the late afternoon. So the drivers' thoughts were firmly focused on qualifying as the twenty-six Formula Renault 3.5 cars took to the track. The track was crowded from the word go, with all the competitors getting down to action straight away.
The driver order changed with every lap completed on worn tyres. Giedo Van der Garde and Bertrand Baguette set the pace at the start of the session, quickly followed by Guillaume Moreau, Mikhail Aleshin and Fabio Carbone.
Robert Wickens then raised the tempo. The Canadian driver set the fastest time of the session in 1'36''308, ahead of Van der Garde, Aleshin, Duran and Carbone, just as many drivers were stopping off at the pits. The new tyres would soon make their appearance, making the last quarter of an hour a decisive period.
Julien Jousse was the first to make an impression, dipping under the 1'36 mark. The Tech1 Racing driver's 1'35''826 was the fastest time clocked so far, with Van der Garde close behind in 1'35''975. The action was interrupted when Alvaro Barba crashed off and the red flag was brought out nine minutes before the scheduled close. The session eventually got back underway with three minutes remaining, which gave all the drivers one last chance to improve on their times.
There were no further changes in the standings, so Julien Jousse goes in to qualifying as the fastest man in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series… for the time being! The Tech1 Racing driver remains cautious about this afternoon's session, however. "I'm happy with my time from this morning, which was quicker than I managed last year. It proves that we've found a good setup. Getting the best time this morning doesn't mean a lot, as the red flag spoiled everyone's momentum. I think that the track will be slower for qualifying."
Second-placed Giedo Van der Garde also broke the symbolic 1'36 barrier. "We tried a slightly different setup this morning, which didn't really suit me, so for qualifying we're going to go back to the setup we used yesterday."
Jousse and Van der Garde also need to be wary of Robert Wickens, who clocked the quickest time on used tyres this morning. "Our car definitely performs very well on used tyres. That bodes well for the race. It's hard to tell how it handles on new tyres, as I had to come off when the red flag came out. But I remain confident about qualifying."
This evening's qualifying session, which will see the drivers divided into two groups of 13, looks wide open.